Scary Movie Month 2018

Every September a new set of rules are posted for the year’s run of Hooptober: a game which involves participants picking, watching, and reviewing at least 31 horror movies through October. Letterboxd user Cinemonster sets a range of parameters each year designed to force viewers out of their comfort zone, which in my case usually leads to watching more genre classics than I would otherwise, as well as making concessions to things I might otherwise think myself above (I am drawn most instinctively to trash released in my lifetime). It is good for discovering films to watch at a later date, as well as forcing the participant to write a whole bunch more than they might if they were simply watching and letting things wash over themselves.

The necessity to sometimes churn out words where there weren’t any has lead to some writing of which I am proud, and some so poor that I still shudder to see it posted in a public forum. Regardless, here they are- all 32 in the order that I watched them!

Happy Halloween!

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Angel Heart (1987)
Dir. Alan Parker
B-

Rourke acts his way into something so wounded and hammy that it almost works; his undoing is that he believes too much in the material. De Niro believes it too, but without Rourke’s grandiosity falls for a single catlike shadow of a character, and even his expressively vacant sketch comes with distracting intensity. Everyone else is given less to go with, which actually builds into a kind of naturalism inaccessible to the floundering private detective who maybe if he slowed down and just observed things a while, would know to get the fuck out and just go home. Which is Harry’s biggest tragedy, that unlike other detectives who get in too deep he seems entirely without the curiosity that reasonably gets them there. He’s written the same but not played that way, instead he’s a weird sad kid with nowhere to go to, nowhere to be. Hjortsberg’s mystery is a bargain basement con, and the way Parker brings it to screen is such a mess that it almost has the good sense to mystify us. If it was slightly more elliptical, maybe, but it’s one of those things cobbled together with testosterone seriousness in a rush to get to the next plot point.

The real mystery is how such an empty shell lands with such weight- it is almost as though it sweats so bad and makes such an unpleasant scene that it registers any way, and feels afterwards like we lived a while in there. Better made films have lacked that sense of being there, and have consequently disappeared the moment the credits run- there must be a way to talk about and appreciate films like Angel Heart that fight their way into mattering through something like vibe alone. Those other films might as well not exist, and not even the most deft, well considered criticism could ever say something more damning. I hate Angel Heart but I’m glad it happened, and at some stage I’ll probably even look at it again. It’s like a bad dream or a photograph in the newspaper of a serial killer’s living room, thick carpet and ugly amber drinking glasses, but with none of the sensorial or ontological authenticity. Some of this clearly comes down to atmosphere, although it’s hard to credit Parker with any of that. Rather, the locations generously give themselves up as quickly as the filmmaker condescends and belittles them. The phoniest, most confidently shitbox work that ever got lit on the right side by an environment: a work of some pompous literacy but with neither the intelligence nor respect to do anything more than dickhead fantasy: a stoned uncle Scooby Doo.

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Hellraiser (1987)
Dir. Clive Barker
B-

Barker’s disinterest in the ways that people exchange words, how their past behaviours and understanding of one another inform present interactions, has Hellraiser approach something radically free of perspective: a free flowing assemblage of images and ideas that hasten to be gross and to establish mythic rules for pain, transcendence, etc. There is no telling what someone is capable of scene by scene, much less what will happen shot by shot, and even the sounds come with prickly discord: when it’s not the sound of jelly being loudly squelched there’s an inexplicable loop of church bells banging as three dudes lift a bed up a small flight of stairs. Distraction, noise, whatever the (causal) cost. Even closeups are so bereft of internal life that they read solely as reactions, intensely blank pieces in unruly sentences that would leave Kuleshov scratching his head. Rejecting the beats of traditional cinema for this flow predictably makes the thing feel longer than it is (which is in itself a good thing), but the depiction of pleasure is cast aside by the writer, first time director, as he explores a visual medium where he can physically show gore and not imaginatively tell about it, making Hellraiser all kinds of indulgent. Which is the point, probably (definitely). Perhaps the most aggressively bizarre thing I’ve seen which film critics were paid to write seriously about for esteemed print publications that people paid to read: Barker getting people on board a ninety minute experimental film outside of the gallery context is actually huge, and this is not for any compromise to convention from the avant-garde.

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Pet Sematary (1989)
Dir. Mary Lambert
A-

Lambert has the patient, literal-focused eye of a daytime television director, and while in the context of horror cinema this can make for something that alienates viewers, others might find it unassumingly bleak. The director never worries about how to frame a scare, whether to reveal or conceal the source, or whether to mine suspense from the subject matter’s inevitable unease. It is unflinching rather than amateur, and this is a narrative where unflinching counts for everything. King’s layers of folksy weirdness and his desire to destroy the central family from within are translated through Lambert’s mercenary kindness which refuses to burst the bubble even once everyone’s cracked up. The meeting the neighbour sequence foregrounds the rules in a bizarre way- Jud is the gas station redneck saying ominous shit and potentially turning up later as an assailant, but instead of existing on some geographical/psychological margin he’s right across the road of this new house, meaning that home itself is in blood too far stepped. We are not let in on how to read the relationship, all that matters is that he divulge the necessary details and then leave us in the ambiguous hopes and discomforts of moving into a new house. When he returns it’s neither presented as a transgression to be misunderstood nor a chipping away at the precarious boundary of the new property, it’s just to tell us more about the rules, and after that he’s basically family. The pet cemetery doesn’t even serve any mechanical purpose, and its emotional thematic one only comes up once. When the film gets freaked out and hostile Lambert shoots directly but she can’t bring herself to stylise hysteria- she likes the family too much, and against her good intentions withholding genre expressivity makes for something broad day terrifying. It’s not that Pet Sematary is a tonal mess but that it has a single tone and a variety of things to depict- the same metre, colours, strokes, grid compositions across the board. Putting a child down like a sick dog is the same as telling him you can’t kick the ball around in the garden right now. A dizzy, nostalgic daydream of loose ends and blunt trauma.

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The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Dir. Terence Fisher
A-

Fisher deals in a stately politeness that makes quietly Gothic what otherwise begins as an anti-drug thing but with Satan instead of substances, meaning interventions for friends who’ve maybe gone a bit hard on the old occult now that they’re holding (Satanic) Mass in their living rooms and most egregiously, forgetting about all their non-Satanic commitments to bourgeois dorks with private golf courses and planes. This politeness makes it all charming in that distinctly old world way, but this only sets us up for upset when spirits are summoned and the tone doesn’t change, making The Devil Rides Out feel peculiarly unmediated. It is of course, through Lee, who plays Duc de Richleau with the confidence of someone three deep into a critically and commercially successful film series (maybe in another world). Which maybe sounds comforting, but it isn’t- such epistemological and emotional myopia simply enforces the idea that there is no more order than this square metre to be found, however hard we look, and that the systems of chaos operating beneath surfaces are both ubiquitous and boundless. This formal rigidity and ineffable mystery was likely influential for Carpenter’s The Fog, to be amplified for Prince of Darkness, although the surface quaintness here makes for something deliberately delirious, like an alternate reality Famous Five, or family friendly murder mystery screened on television sets in hell. The pastoral vistas glimpsed on the fringes of the film’s organisations (architectural, civilised, occult) are pronounced by their very limited appearance, gesturing to a wilderness to which not even the devil will venture. This results in something all the more ambiguous: between the posh weirdo who frames the world for us as posh and weird, to the polite organisation of nefarious weirdos who do a bit of child sacrifice on the side, Fisher’s awareness of all their limitations is a contextual longshot familiar to contemporaries as the site of broad day barbarism (Witchfinder General). This is not to say that it’s hopeless, just dubious, and unwilling to offer much other than the promise that you can dethrone anything with doubt, but just watch out what you put in the last thing’s place.

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Chopping Mall (1986)
Dir. Jim Wynorski
A-

Chopping Mall features less chopping than it does laser bullets and cute little pincer things that grab peoples’ throats, and about as much as there are gnarly robot hands holding shopping bags containing severed heads. Which is to say that there is no chopping, there are no gnarly robot hands, and the shopping bags containing severed heads are a cover concept type thing only. Wynorski hates the sound and image of people chewing almost as much as he does unchecked security measures that prioritise private property over human life, which is all very good news. Also what he has in leeriness he makes up for in what is clearly humane direction: every single person looks as though they are having a great amount of fun hanging out in the mall at night, and they all understand the film’s tone entirely, neither embarrassing themselves with attempts to act, or killing the thing with the self-reflexive millennial wink-nudge. The film-within-a-film exposition at the beginning both allows the film to acknowledge its grim silliness (the in-film audience protests these adorable mercenaries putting capital ahead of bodies), and outlines a potential checkpoint-by-checkpoint thriller where areas and assailants are demarcated for us. That the film ultimately refuses to go this way is its most intuitive move: Chopping Mall becomes about experimentation and failure in the mall playground. We are trapped with the leads who need to destroy the killer robots but who can only fumble their way through improvised methods, and we are left to wonder about other outcomes and unpursued possibilities. Which means that it is a film that feels actively good to hang out in.

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Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Dir. Jack Arnold
A+

All respect to those who can take a scalpel to this thing and say impassively that it is a monster movie with good underwater photography, but for others separating form from content would be as dismissive as describing Whistler’s Nocturne in Blue and Gold as a painting of a bridge, or Mansfield’s The Woman at the Store as a sequence of words about a woman at a store. Creature from the Black Lagoon‘s celebrated underwater images are not tacked onto the film, but rather work to explore its emotional ramifications sensorially, which in an audio-visual medium counts for everything. Its opening abstract smoke sequence is a thesis on life finding a way no matter what, but this imagery becomes paired with abstractions of oxygen, reed, and water that painfully temper its affirmations: loneliness is a quiet extinction. The film’s land sequences are necessarily rendered in full clarity as these people are pursuing Another World to be organised and dominated according to their belief systems, but the fossilised hand that sets things in motion means something entirely different outside of this context, another world indeed: for the monster a reminder of what was, thereby reinforcing its isolation. I will always be haunted by the impossible romance of the reflected image swimming sequences, and the blind, melancholy rage that permeates the landscape, intermittently stumbling into a world that’s forever out of its depth.

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The Nun (2018)
Dir. Corin Hardy
A-

Annabelle: Creation was fair warning, a funhouse spring-loaded with traps that were triggered with such frequency that the audience became numb to it a few scenes in. Critics and audiences nevertheless celebrated the shift from Leonetti’s woozy subjective nightmare space into something more mechanically tangible, and with The Nun Corin Hardy decisively pushes these things from what they were at the beginning of the decade, into a free-fall of blunt force trauma. The Nun is the Furious 7 or M:I Fallout of Wan family horror, still dragging the architectural baggage of the older films along with every other demon, ghost, castle thing dating Elizabeth Báthory to now, and winding it as tight as it can possibly go.

It is so dense with the Gothic, the sacrilegious piece, the giallo that it is suffocating, but suffocatingly alive as Hardy moves at a breakneck pace, and Maxime Alexandre dresses everything in damp psychological drama. Between Alexandre and the team of overqualified set designers, The Nun has maybe six or seven separate films in it, complete with sites of conflict, climax, and reprieve, like a song suite or total waste of ideas and resource, depending on how you look at it. While the latter is fair criticism, The Nun feels in places less greedy than like the experience of trying to make sense of one of the pieces from Let My Children Hear Music or Syro, or reading Moby-Dick and having every chapter self-destruct before your eyes, just as you get into the rhythm of its one-off logic.

As far as logic is concerned, Hardy does not even bother having it contained piece by piece, and this is the source of The Nun‘s greatest joys. It dresses itself in the sturdy professionalism that people currently demand from horror movies, but the way it behaves is entirely unhinged: the funhouse that defined these things ’til the apparent end appears in fragments to be whisked away, rather than as the thing housing the fragments as in the past. What then houses The Nun? Nothing: it explodes moment by moment. It is a kind of screaming anti-catharsis borrowing from pure cinema and reenacted collage, activated only on full sensorial overdrive. As such the derided jump-scare is relegated to the position of scene-closer (how a fade-out might be used elsewhere), and the real fear is the cumulative effect of its shrill delirium.

Hardy understands that there are no mysteries here because there are no rules dictating what can and cannot be understood: the superstitious townspeople will not speak of the monastery, and when we arrive it is unclear whether there is a convent hiding in the shadows, or whether this place has long been abandoned. It has nothing to tell us about this because it is not confident that anything it says will be enduringly true- it will only matter for as long as you see something in the shadows, or experience it tearing at your face.

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The Beyond (1981)
Dir. Lucio Fulci
A+

The Beyond‘s extended gore scenes are too passionate to be cleanly ignored by an audience in it for everything else, and there are only a small number of times where the film is both gory and beautiful (a scene where a jug of acid turns a child’s mother into a strawberry ice cream-like foam that chases her along the morgue’s white tiles), but The Beyond climaxes with such forceful intensity that it retroactively colours them as a microcosm of the film’s freaked out chaos: whatever Fulci gets from it personally, the desecration of the human body is played as desecration, horror in the sense of the world coming apart. I find myself forever unable to cheer for this shit, but surprisingly The Beyond reacts humanely to its own orchestrations, watching helplessly when something bad happens and shuddering a bit more defeated as the film goes on. Its images fall into mesmeric or non-entity with nothing in between (the gorgeous textural monochrome opening seems to acknowledge as much), and the ability of its cosmic disorder to bridge hazy naturalism and point and shoot is instinct-dependent as it is instinctively composed. Which is the danger, but also the whole deal.

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Island of Lost Souls (1932)
Dir. Erle C. Kenton
A-

Struss shoots with hazy uncertainty until Moreau is in control at which point things are rendered in an oppressive clarity that Laughton laps up, traversing shadow and light, instruction and suggestion like an insane puppet master who’s fooled himself into thinking he’s stable through pronounced signs of civilisation. Kenton’s surprise move is withholding exoticism from the haze (and you would think, the invariably exotic private island) and corporeal horror from enacted barbarism, instead pressing on an unease which like Moreau eludes being perceived exactly as is. Bordering Island of the Lost Souls are villages which contain the action, but before long the peripheral is where our interests lie, no wonder Wells was so pissed off. The contradiction of a civilising force maybe takes filmic precedence over the human-as-God that sits at the centre of Wells’ narrative, but almost a century (and countless sci-fi films) on, it is infinitely more interesting: revolution as a moral imperative.

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Eaten Alive (1976)
Dir. Tobe Hooper
A+

The life and death of Clara Wood is the most clumsily framed and edited series of actions to be found outside of a high school film class, but for establishing a recurring theme it maybe works: Clara as a prostitute is seen as a piece of meat for whom consent is not a reality, and Clara as not a prostitute is seen as a piece of meat for whom consent is not a reality. Her brief arc’s slipshod immediacy, anti-naturalist acting and jarring as-is conception, does what The Texas Chainsaw Massacre did through force, which is to wire itself directly to the viewer’s nervous system. Then as Eaten Alive abruptly lifts itself to expressionism, we’ve already given ourselves over to the reality of an hour and a half anxiety attack. Negotiating questions of artificiality and affect is its thing- with Clara Wood as to whether something ineptly unnatural will feel perversely unmediated, after that whether Southern melodrama can go further than vaudeville and what happens out there in the great unknown.

The broken families, domineering patriarchs, southern belles, lonely hotel owners traumatised by some war are all present but stripped of ingratiating narrative tricks leaving a starkly alienating humanity both raw and overdressed. Some have called it a degenerate musical, with the evidence being the obvious sets bordered abruptly by fog, brutal red/green complementary neons bleeding across forms, Caravaggio-esque tenebrism, amplified performances, and omnipresent country music. This works, although the forty five minute run to the first and only fade feels itself like a free improv session that only stops because it reaches peak cacophony there and not later. Where The Texas Chainsaw Massacre worked with tonal dissonance anchored by a linear rhythm of build and release, Eaten Alive runs in circles. Its key scene or at least most outward gazing has the killer feather dusting his pristine domestic space, listening to a polite sounding country record about a killer killing his sister’s husband, trying to block out the sound of the nuclear family upstairs abusing one another, the husband just barking like a dog. Its gnarly heart is Judd as the grim reaper (scythe included), fucked in the head because he knows he should hate himself, taking down all the men that don’t realise they too should self-destruct.

Very literate, and of both a stoned and raving disposition, Eaten Alive casts elements of our world in a harsh light but also feels pre-reflexively, primordially urgent.

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Urban Legend (1998)
Dir. Jamie Blanks
B

Post-Scream slashers played unaware of Scream are a heroically numbskull thing and one of cinema’s finest treats at the dawn of a new millennium, like those new games optimistically released on consoles that’ve just been made obsolete by the new model. Urban Legend is attuned to its position looking forward and back, making it self-aware but not self-reflexive, which is where its joys lie. Notably it nods to genre ancestry with methodical, grimly descriptive scenes of violence that seem tonally dissonant within the American slasher: one in particular involving pop rocks and drano feels like the spirit of giallo invading a teen drama, which is every bit as bizarre and horrifying as that sounds. Inherited from the zeitgeist is ennui-as-psychopathy: a cast of joyless rich teenagers who are above the law by virtue of their socio-economic standing but not the wrath of one another.

Where other films of its kind tend to write characters as crash test dummies, Urban Legend turns its male characters into the punchline from American Psychotwo years early- they are all distinguishable in look, but the bland repetitions of their aimless hostility turn them into an unpleasant presence in general. They speak exclusively in the combative rhythms popularised by Jamie Kennedy in Scream, the difference being that Kennedy realised he was trapped in a genre film and the kids in this don’t know anything other than upper-class one-upmanship. Joshua Jackson has a weird tiny mouth and bleached hair, and seems to be predatory, except that so are the other two; Jared Leto is the smart one, but they are all ‘the smart one’, and when this becomes clear he transforms into the psychopathic one (until Joshua Jackson reminds us that he is psychopathic); Joshua Jackson is supposed to be the horny one, but Michael Rosenbaum emits a louder sleaze. They are hosts, to each the personality ticks etc are transferable, as in something like The Thing.

Outside of this Alicia Witt’s lead is entirely vacant, but this is a new look- flashbacks indicate that she used to be mean at least, but since killing someone and seeing it mean nothing she’s been left with the desire to be good with no understanding of how to go about doing it. It’s not even a question of forgiveness when these concepts dissolved some time earlier in the century. Rebecca Gayheart displays an internal life; the film’s events cause minor emotional reactions in her that reflect her values and desires. By design she is the only recognisable human being in this. To say that Urban Legend does not vibe with any of its characters outside of Gayheart’s Brenda would be an understatement: its contempt for their bourgeois nihilism is pronounced, and its proposal that we violently reintroduce old world morality through urban legends (as contemporary folklore) to see what happens is a fin de siècle satire played, in the style of contemporary television drama, dead straight.

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The Shout (1978)
Dir. Jerzy Skolimowski
C

Skolimowski either has too much or too little faith in Graves’ source material, which means that The Shout finds itself a (probably intentional) formal/narrative dissonance that refuses to let up. At its most enchanting Molloy shoots in a haze compositions that sit on the threshold of normal, blocking almost naturalistically, and Vince edits atonally, recalling Roeg’s work in a way that is quiet and never flashy. As a mood piece on picturesque normalcy in confrontation with the unknown (the lapping sea just over the hill) it is disconcerting in the way that only the most exquisitely stoned visions of the seventies ever managed, but it allows a second-order manifestation of dark magic in Bates’ Crossley who is then given prominence. Gaunt Hurt falling apart as Bates’ gummy face smirks maliciously carries the conflict, but I wonder whether I watched a different cut to other viewers as what is celebrated for being vague and haunting I found felt the need to explain itself with increasing regularity as the film went on. It’s not that simple but it is- every gesture in the film is actioned by mugging Crossley, but its filmic echo always answers back. Skolimowski knows entirely what he is doing, and for him disorder feels all the more distressing when there is someone there channeling it, who may or may not be in control.

I can only argue myself in circles trying to articulate why this didn’t work for me because it so obviously improves itself for everything I don’t like about it, my main complaint being the pettiest: the images giving themselves over to Crossley, and this being the simplest to resolve: this only happens in Crossley’s story as he tells it, foregrounding the dialogue between control and disorder, authority and madness. The fact that the home invasion happens too easily but that it has the good spirit to play it blackly comic is almost as clever as the way it undermines its own mysteries and then turns the tables any way. Forever back to square one.

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Someone’s Watching Me! (1978)
Dir. John Carpenter
A

The seventies TV format calls for an aloof dryness that Carpenter half-relishes but also tempers: you can spot Carpenter’s worst because they’re competent enough to be good and also uncaring, and that is not the case at all with Someone’s Watching Me!. Neither he nor Lauren Hutton believe that this television thing will lead to anything worthwhile and in fact they are both in a rush in the world of cinema (where their hearts lie), but as workaholics for whom no experience is a waste of time this amounts to a kind of earnest professionalism. It helps that unlike most human beings Carpenter writes specificity first and generalisations later (see also, The Fog), but Hutton inhabits the role of Leigh Michaels with such generosity that she captivates through layers of performance- what she chooses to reveal and conceal to others, to herself, to us.

The parallel between film and voyeurism through surveillance technologies is drawn out, as well as a kind of hopelessness in plurality as embodied by the inner-city apartment: far from the utopias of Le Courbusier, here everyone sees everyone but no one cares. With great humour Carpenter shoots the building tilting up from the street below like Lucas shoots the bottom of a spaceship. As much can be made of any of this as the viewer is willing to indulge, but if it’s sci-fi it’s a domestic riff on They Live: the director calls on the eye of the television set as an insidious technology that for many means Home. The cameras do not roam as world-inhabiting agents as they do in Halloween, nor do the edits spiral out and explore radially as in The Fog, instead everything adheres to a logic that seems common sense, comfortable in its detached omniscience. Of course this is not boring, it is about boring, or rather the violence and predation that’ve managed to hide behind boring, behind televisual Home.

Leigh works as a television director, which is why she is so quick to realise that she has been ensnared in something that’s being directed, and why she is so adamant that she not give in to it. Instead she fixes herself directly in the frame and begins to seize back her agency. The images’ aloofness, more outwardly hostile as the film goes on, seem unlike Carpenter because he can’t bring himself to empathise with the format and its attitudes. Instead he’s with Leigh, picking up the knife when threatened and wandering down to meet what lurks behind the curtain- the Wizard, the sad middle-aged man, the alien ruling class, ideology.

Additional perks to Carpenter wearing his heart on his sleeve include things treated as obvious here but which filmmakers forty years later still struggle with and get a pass on: a gay character who is gay simply because she is gay, a guy who pesters Leigh for a date and who is characterised as a creep instead of an adorably eager geek (who gets his date and learns some things about himself, and so on), interpersonal relationships built on trust and affection and which are therefore good for all parties involved.

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
Dir. Tobe Hooper
A

Hopper acts and speaks in his own crybaby cowboy revenge play that makes him seem less an anchor than a clueless madman in a theatre of madness: as a saviour, as a revenger, as a No Country phantom of the Old he’s the biggest, weirdest, saddest joke on display. Do not cry, my brother! he yells in tears to the skeleton Franklin, forgotten by most and inexplicably encountered by Lefty on level three of the Sawyers’ subterranean theme park. His descent into the Reagan-era heart of the nation is populated by visions domestic and political, at its core inhabited by patriarch Drayton yelling into the air about regulation and taxes threatening his good family business (human meat).

Hooper knew that we had internalised our feelings over witnessing real violence in order to become socially numb twelve years prior, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 scratches at the wound with a steel coat hanger. Its one-note scream is Eaten Alive‘s grotesque musical as blunt-force farce, blockbuster family entertainment (Spielbergian, or at least The Goonies) lined with bones and guts, familial/political subtext as text. It is a wasteland of individuals, of compulsory greed, and spectacle, and for the first time it feels entirely boundless. There is a tension at play then between the work’s political anger and pessimism, as Hooper wants to express something enduringly bleak but also understands that pessimism abets apathy (which legitimises degeneration). Without ‘normal’ to contextualise the events and people with whom we’re stuck, we are beaten with the impression that this is all fairly standard, which calls into question whether the Sawyers are a symptom of large-scale disorder above ground, or whether this is indeed the subterranean theme park hell pumping blood to the rest of the socio-political landscape.

It is tiring, and the drag is real with a first act that is perfect by any standards, that hints at something that roams and doesn’t just burrow in on the same idea for an hour. Somehow though this makes it feel bigger. The extent to which it all feels put-on is broadcasted, radicalised by the fact that it feels lived-in, making it the kind of punk rock masterpiece that is both torturous and actively fun to explore. Its frustrated awareness of its limitations are its drive: a burning reaction to its time that exists to still feel vital decades later. It is perplexing and shrilly straightforward, sneering as it advocates hacking the thing down at its foundations whether this will put an end to the horrorshow or not.

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Piranha 3D (2010)
Dir. Alexandre Aja
C+

So plainly out of time: Piranha 3D has the compulsive and compulsory nastiness of a film released just after Bush’s reelection such that it feels like a period piece- only half a decade later, sure, but it adds up to something more unwittingly distressing than its proud/bad self-awareness can account for. It might have been the film of 2005, if not by any critical standards then for the amount of lunchtime conversation fodder provided to stoned high school students forking out good money to rent it from Blockbuster as a new release: the piranha massacre in particular is more dense with individuated shock deaths than one would ever expect going in, and Aja’s persuasive misanthropy has it all bob across the screen with the innocuous spectacle of I don’t know a cat video. Contrary to its backward conception, time might be kind to it?

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Lake Mungo 2008
Dir. Joel Anderson
A

Two years after Inland Empire and Miami Vice the filmmakers in Lake Mungo understand the expressive potential of digital noise in cinema, but also feel on a more intimate level the despair of seeing one’s family photos left behind in the wake of technology’s advancement, or subjected to routine sweeps that every day come closer to being unable to read the images. The tools that we use for remembering are in effect built to forget, to unlearn, to deny. Lake Mungo is a mockumentary and as expected its talking heads and reenactments are suitably nondescript, readable, but the footage it contains takes us back and asks to be re-read, re-interpreted, demonstrating in its manner the conflict between archiving and our methods. In digital swarms travelling through incompatible devices it appears as though the stories we tell are the same, but that the world is deteriorating beneath us.

Lake Mungo is at its most pure when it is most lonely, which is when it pushes up against the limitations of narrative film itself: we see Alice inhabiting footage which cannot help but occupy only a finite period of time (small fragments pieced together to an hour and a half). As archivists the Palmers use these documents to revisit, to learn and cope, until they feel adequately well enough to forget them. The images themselves, the people trapped in them, on the other hand endure and cry out never to be forgotten, to not be turned into noise by the storage devices that will in six months time be collecting dust. We cannot blame the Palmers for wanting closure, but the way they misread Alice’s appearances as a lesson for moving on is devastating. And we cannot blame Alice for clawing through layers of reality just to be heard, because how could we.

It is clearly a film made by people who are hugely invested in the human dimensions of prior works (the surname Palmer, other revelations as explicit connections), and it occasionally forfeits real dread out of commitment to the documentary conceit- we are a few years off James Wan creating open spaces and expecting the audience to explore them for themselves, so instead slow zooms and ominous music work to guide us to the things that the filmmakers want us to see. It is awkward in ways that it can’t account for (and many in ways that it can), but strangely this never lessens the severity of any of its blows. The tension between our desire for something determinate (narrative, closure) in what is actually infinite (footage, grief, loneliness) is Lake Mungo‘s conceptual aching heart, but what hurts most are the flashes of forgetting and waiting, where the perspective switches to the person occupying the photograph: I stood at the foot of their bed and realised they couldn’t help me.

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Under the Shadow (2016)
Dir. Babak Anvari

Writer-director Babak Anvari has five or more movies to make around the same metaphor and crams them all into Under the Shadow, a film that is built with such clean efficiency that it almost threatens to feel breezy. A number of the images and exchanges that pass by hint at more urgent works to come: a non-narrative work on forgotten and abandoned objects, a chamber play with husband and wife negotiating her place post-revolution (‘Maybe it’s for the best,’ he says early on), making the film something of a springboard for each viewer’s area of investment. One of the more intelligent films of recent times, and one that assertively provides the means for understanding without sympathy, I found that it lacked the kind of distinctive voice necessary to take the viewer prisoner, largely adhering to the anodyne rhythms and textures of Netflix genre fodder (which is precisely what this film isn’t). I knew I couldn’t review this, I’ve just written the same sentence three times over. How about this: it broke my heart but never got under my skin.

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New Nightmare (1994)
Dir. Wes Craven
A

Craven’s formal affability (New Nightmare basically radiates orange warmth!) holds us back from directly weathering what the film interrogates through its self-reflexivity, not circumventing but aestheticising the crumbling of reality and fiction as something family friendly. Others have drawn the comparison for good reason- if we had followed Heather into her skull without cinematic railing New Nightmare would be Inland Empire with Freddy Krueger as a six foot something plastic toy, but the rails are there because it is not Lynch, it is sentimental Craven. While this cinematic glow makes Heather’s despair more dramatic (image by image promising resolution where perhaps there shouldn’t be) and less directly invasive (where trapped in subjectivity anything goes), it is necessary for Craven’s big-hearted concept: storytelling as a collective expression that makes the horrors of the world if not less unknowable then less likely to be endured in silence, alone. That A Nightmare on Elm Street communicated precisely this without being explicitly self-reflexive highlights how redundant ‘meta’ works are, but here again the glow wins out as New Nightmare feels more Romancing in Thin Air than Cabin in the Woods– a love-letter, a declaration of commitment to the artform that these people believe in entirely.

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Videodrome (1983)
Dir. David Cronenberg
B

Videodrome‘s greatest trick is that it’s boring but watchable: an openly linear order of events that feel blandly premeditated, like Videodrome always knows where Videodrome is going and how. Because it’s designed to stick around, to be watched over and over again as the world changes, Cronenberg loads it with enough fatalism that the day it stops making sense will be the day the world is fixed. He desperately wants for Videodrome to stop making sense, but its wearying performance of a descent just feels more and more weary as time goes on. It satisfies neither classical genre beats nor an avant-garde or pornographic constancy of catharsis. Instead the director relies on the medium’s constant now-time to maintain interest, or the observation that whether Max is engaged in torture, food shopping, or a garage sale, the audience will be unable to look away. The subject matter feels disengaged, because it is secondary.

What might initially seem like a whirlwind or sinister network of threads on return visits reveals itself as sort of sweet, albeit bleak. Its autocritique (film critiquing mass media) is a decoy complication- really it’s the simple fact of enduring over three decades, morphing in scope with the context that houses it (which in turn morphs with the media consumed, a real Mobius strip situation if one follows its thesis) that makes it feel vital, and vitally dismal. To do it justice now we would have to extend it to the internet broadly or streaming services specifically, and on all counts we’d find it shaking its head: crushing malaise through the promise of an endless sea of stimulation/content/comfort that unlike broadcast programming comes with the laugh out loud funny but weirdly prevalent (and persistent!) myth of consumer agency: I watched it because it was on Netflix, but I had the choice to watch something else that was on Netflix; I have never been more free. If it was made now it’d have to be more explicitly a farce (Burn After Reading style), but if it actually went ahead it would be delivered as an innocuously dark or trippy ten episode thing, on Netflix.

Videodrome didn’t have to fight anything like that at the time, but its autocritique has it sidestep naivete because the limitations it acknowledged then are the same limitations good artists face now: can the tools to dismantle the thing be present inside the thing itself? It’s the same joke at the end of They Live where each audience member has to decide whether a revolutionary message delivered through action spectacle reads as revolutionary or as action spectacle. Cronenberg cautiously suggests both as a way forward and as such Videodrome is not so much a luddite shrug as a challenge to artists to be both thinkers and blood-soaked murderers. Early on Max’s defense of violent media (‘imagination’, ‘catharsis’) is presented as disingenuous and wormlike, marking the film as an uncompromisingly moralistic call to action: learn stimulation to say something hopeful or agitating, to seize and alter the medium. Which all sounds fun but it’s not. Again it’s made to self-destruct when it’s no longer needed; the birth of the New Flesh is framed by a television set branded ‘Videodrome’, so that what might’ve been heroic or horrible comes out removed, televised. As a how-to it’s inherently limited, but as an enduring artist statement it’s indispensable.

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Night of the Creeps (1986)
Dir. Fred Dekker
B

Dekker abstracts person/purpose into send-up for Night of the Creeps, but resists flat parody through pushing for a hangout spirit that is the playing field for the film’s depth and sole reason for return trips. It’s not about the characters on screen hanging out then (we don’t believe in them enough to make that feasible), but about hanging out with Night of the Creeps, imagining ourselves through its gestures and hallways and street lights, recognising its targets and seeing how they transform in appearance through the decades, mimicking the film and calling out and listening for an echo. It has a snotty awareness that the viewer/participant is left able to sidestep or indulge, which is good for many reasons, not least that Night of the Creeps frequently squanders its images for auto-defensive shittiness, and even confuses its atmosphere in places for a parody of the real thing. Stranded in the writer-director’s unmoving hall of mirrors and parallel movie night is J.C., the gay best friend who is tragically aware of the situation: a nineteen eighties parody of antiquated fifties heteronormative courtship rituals amidst cosmic disaster is still a film about heteronormative courtship amidst cosmic disaster. It’s starkly this way from beginning to end, making him a kind of undead sidekick not unlike Jack in An American Werewolf in London, doomed by his sexuality rather than blind narrative necessity. Accepting the only role available to him (the support role, acknowledged verbally in every scene he’s in), he says ‘I love you’ to his best friend and promptly becomes the unsung martyr.

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The Grapes of Death (1978)
Dir. Jean Rollin
A+

Serenely unsettling in that way that can only be achieved through a location’s voice taking precedence over a coherent authorial one. Rollin has the walking dead sentient, and for that, self-loathing, and Grapes of Death feels lived-in strictly in past tense: a ruin.

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Child’s Play (1988)
Dir. Tom Holland
A-

Annabelle is about creating uneasy spaces cinematically; the doll, the characters, and the events are all endured by the director who is more interested in removing subjects from the frame in pursuit of a consuming absence. Watching it I had assumed that Leonetti was disinterested in continuing the scary doll tradition which was a noble and very serious thing dating back forever but reaching its peak in Child’s Play– imagine my surprise finding out these were always funny!

My favourite thing is that Maggie drops in to become Aunt Maggie in order to help her friend out and that Karen loves her son so much, and when there are children’s shoe prints on a counter at a crime scene Detective Norris says ‘Oh, cool shoes, kid- what’s that, a gun, a cowboy hat…’ like guns are chill on the soles of children’s shoes because Good Guys carry guns, and that the children’s psychiatric hospital is a frightening abandoned building with people walking around like it’s normal. Also the doll is a cute little jerk who’s all ‘Fuck you!’ at people all middle finger up ’cause he’s got a plan or some shit. This movie says that families look like anywhere there’s love and support, that the police don’t listen to women, that Good Guy cowboys are serial killers, and other things because it is a good film that says good stuff but is also totally dumb in execution so that its energy is dumb energy which is the best energy for works in the not scary doll tradition.

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Halloween (2018)
Dir. David Gordon Green

Carpenter’s ambivalence toward Zombie’s critically reviled Halloween reboot both justified and clarified the limits of popular imagination where The Shape is concerned: efforts to humanise Michael Myers miss the point, according to viewers and the creator himself. Following this, Halloween 2018 is a candid attempt to rescue the franchise from both decades of perceived mediocrity and recent divergent perspectives. This sounds awful but it isn’t- to both its detriment and benefit it is geeky rather than cynical. It is clear why Carpenter would speak fondly of it leading up to its release: he loves his fans, and Halloween is for the majority of its runtime a compulsively flattering fan piece.

Almost immediately Green et all get to work stripping out everything audiences found objectionable about Halloween‘s reboot, re-mythologising everything Old School, and then set the stage for their fan fiction by joining the dots of everything Halloween, such that everybody in the film breathes and speaks Halloween 1978 exclusively. I don’t mean this in the sense of all of Haddonfield living under the shadow of those events (that would look something like 2009’s eternally wounded Halloween II), but more like a contrived but well-intentioned reunion episode. The dialogue is not always bad per se, just presented badly. Non-naturalistic dialogue makes perfect sense housed in non-naturalistic cinematic rhythms, but Green’s scenes drag quasi-naturalistically for his signature banter: someone will deliver something Epic and instead of cutting the scene there (queue chills, adrenaline, whatever), another person will jump in, and then the original speaker will have to say the same thing again, this time less dramatically. It’s a parody of gravitas, drawn out and ridiculed, but to what end is never clear. Absurd stoner moments like ‘I’m a doctor- lock your doors!’ and plot twists hinging on ‘but what if the void, man!’ alienate and never fall into relief because the cinematographic tone is otherwise so relentlessly humourless.

It is pretty and moody in a way that is always tasteful while avoiding hackneyed genre trends, as Green lurks through the shadows, back to the wall, shooting towards the light. In this sense the cameras embody Michael Myers as he appeared in Halloween 1978, which is a potentially interesting conceit, but the mystery that Green and McBride so desired to return to The Shape is diminished through just shooting him from behind, walking. It’s an immersive trick, and an attractive one, but is totally out of sync with the brief. It is also disappointingly literal, a doubling down of the black hole that manifests where there are shadows, observing all that is good and happy with blank violent curiosity. Carpenter shot him like those before him shot ghosts, just out of clear view, where the suggestion of a presence is most unsettling. Green is all centred presence, ultraviolence, enacted watching, a guy in a mask and not The Shape everyone keeps talking about. He struggles shooting darkness because he has turned his back to it, and he struggles with absence because he’s too excited to get things happening on screen. For flashes it almost feels like a new slasher: it’s all positive space (unlike Carpenter) and where Zombie’s Michael was so physical that he took on the form of a sad child only capable of expressing himself as a traumatic event, Green’s has a distinct joyless severity mixed with fetish kicks that makes it bizarrely unprecedented. Framed in complete seriousness, The Shape sets up a prank involving a car in neutral and a human head turned into a jack-o’-lantern.

Of course we are not allowed to run with this fantasy for long, because it is so emphatically Halloween 2018: The Showdown. It goes without saying that The Showdown should have been a western. The trailers sold it as such, all Laurie sitting on her porch and polishing her shotgun, waiting to negate both herself and her tormenter at sundown, and this was likely the pitch Green and McBride gave Carpenter and Blum. Instead however they adhere to strict slasher beats while fulfilling none of what the slasher demands: exploring the reasons why we are afraid of the dark, why groups of people tell these stories, why communities create these myths. A slasher without Craven’s interest in folklore and empathy would all be fine, but it feels lazy in a film that is re-telling the story of an old intellectual property- ignoring the notion that it’s all the same Killer, why are we still demanding the story of THIS one in particular? Is it just the case that enough money will bring anything back from the dead (even real people in the new Star Wars reboots), or have Green and McBride discovered something pressing to say about 1978 that demands to be told in 2018 (or vice versa)?

In an early scene introducing key characters, one of them questions whether the events of 1978 were really so bad, referring to the five dead as ‘not much by today’s standards.’ Within the first two violent scenes of the film you can count nine dead, all by grisly means, which feels like an admission on Green’s and McBride’s part that they don’t really know the answer to that question, nor do they ever want to find it. They’re fans: they don’t know why they’ve resurrected it, they don’t feel like ending it, and they’re just happy that it exists. Pleasant, and completely useless.

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The Birds (1963)
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
A

There is such rich environmental and character specificity, such patience involved in standing back to let a blow-by-blow of a frivolous plot unfold (that’d be entirely truncated in any other film outside of a European new wave), that it initially seems as though the filmmaker is for our benefit working in and around a premise that they themselves find ludicrous. Not as an apology, nor even necessarily a distraction, more of an excuse to open a window to a series of events or diorama for all parties to enjoy- almost like Bruegel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus or Hunters in the Snow. The strangest thing about it though isn’t that it denies its premise, but that it gets around to playing it straighter than anyone would think reasonable, discarding its meticulous genre rhythms for a cold kind of pedantic chaos. Which is enough, really, but also this chaos is where the humanity emerges. When the language of romantic comedy falls apart the people remain but now unguarded, bare and desperate, and they can’t help but let old prejudices dwindle and forge sincere connections in its place. The Birds‘ creepiness finds a match in its tenderness.

It’s still a killer bird film but the sense of the everyday suddenly coming to signify blind catastrophe makes for some deliriously frightening images which supplant the idyllic ones from earlier, and this makes it seem broadly ‘natural’ in scope (see also, StalkerThe Happening for an abstracted mundane terror). Texturally though the birds are necessary in generating something shrilly anxiety-inducing- the metallic crashing sounds of the wings, the attacks that take on the quality of a found-footage collage. Just because Hitchcock is The Best doesn’t mean his films are the best, but for a good many reasons The Birds is kind of the best.

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The Mummy (1959)
Dir. Terence Fisher
B-

The set, like the photograph or the painting holds a sense of reality far greater than its real-world referent. There is something infinite about the worlds in Kingdom Hearts which show the seams of the stage set, the limits of the remembered artefact, rather than employing an illusionistic wallpaper that promises but can never deliver on boundless life over the horizon. The real-fake is sovereign in the world of the fiction, existing to contain the fiction in it and vice versa, but this goes for lived reality as well (see for example instances of people making pilgrimage to architectural masterpieces and then crouching into position out in the garden to find the angle Julius Shulman used for his photograph). The Egyptian sets of The Mummy, and the costuming of the mummy, also hold this life force in all of their materiality, and so about thirty minutes of its ninety minute runtime are impossibly intoxicating. The mummy, the swamp, and the tomb all stand so as to say I am real, encouraging the viewer to do their part imagining life into the fake trees, filling the fiction with untold stories off in the distance. The other sixty or so on the other hand are precisely what people think they don’t like about mid-century horror films, with a polite dryness that exhaustingly justifies the good bits, rather than running alongside the terror, trying to explain the unexplainable. The expositional control is the voice, rather than a voice, making The Mummy too narratively literal for the narrative material (magic as revenge).

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Night of the Comet (1984)
Dir. Thom Eberhardt
A-

obviously the best thing ever

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Train to Busan (2016)
Dir. Yeon Sang-ho
B-

Compulsively tasteful compositions, colour grading, and even zombies are as much of a drag in practice as the promise of an irregularly well made zombie movie (one according to the aforementioned compulsions to taste), but this thing is not particularly well made beyond its squeaky clean veneer, and in great zombie film tradition its shagginess is where it matters: the moment charming/altruistic Ma Dong-seok picks up a shield and baton to become an outright superhero, the elderly train conductor who has so much faith in trains that against anyone’s interests he finds himself conducting trains ’til the bloody end, like a file clerk checking the window to see that yes, the meteor is coming, and then returning to their filing methodically as the world becomes engulfed in flames. The archetypes here achieve melodramatic pitch rather than archetypal weirdness, and as the credits roll it seems that Train to Busan with its hammy emotion might actually be an enduring thing- a holiday favourite for the whole family.

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Maniac Cop (1988)
Dir. William Lustig
A-

It is no small feat creating a fictional world that is believably cruel, and not simply describing bad people doing cruel things, or (in the case of something like Hereditary) staging bad things happening to non-entities, thereby revealing a cruel directorial hand. Maniac Cop is simple in concept, but sophisticated in the way that it lays narrative threads for the viewer to follow and uncover, saints and nobodies and conspiracies under the same toxic sky. The cartoon violent atmosphere is its central threat, Lemmo’s streets vibrating with a callous sleaze insisting that anything can (and should) happen.

Dramatically it’s still a series of aestheticised violent events that we build a mythos for so that we can understand their rules and limits, but Cohen underscores the film’s horror as realism: Person on the Street segments are used to remind us that the police murder unarmed individuals every day, so the idea of a single Maniac Cop is blissfully naive. These sections, this atmosphere that denies the catharsis of a reified entity, is what differentiates Maniac Cop from its angry contemporaries, and what makes its turn to convention in the final act feel so disingenuous.

Lustig demands complete seriousness from the cast, which results in something handsome but awkward from Campbell and pure in Atkins. It’s startling actually, from the first time we meet him in the morgue and he offers ‘Poor thing… you must have been so afraid,’ to his belief in evidence, through his desire for immolation as a means of attacking the system he knows is broken. His tenderness is incompatible with the desires of the film as we know it, a single figure glowing inwardly against the brutal saturated lights waiting to devour him. It plays as if we’re in on the joke, which we are, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach.

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Monkey Shines (1988)
Dir. George A. Romero
C

Romero’s decision to play straight the subject of a helper monkey turned vengeful spurned lover is commendable, as is his move to trap the viewer helplessly, domestically in cinematic beige. To watch Monkey Shines is to endure and withstand its narrative threads, as useless people do stupid and terrible things superfluously, and neither we nor anyone else can put a stop to it. This is not to say that Romero is slacking off; Monkey Shines is not boring through deficiency but decision making, and its sense of control is in each scene’s deliberate uselessness. Its resistance to the idea of being in any way productive. Were it not so serious then the torment we suffer would be sadistically pleasurable and not banally endless, but Romero opts for the sticky claustrophobia of Sunday movie matinee. Like finding yourself sunburnt on an overcast day, or unable to sleep through the conversation happening next door (not loud, just persistent), or thirsty on a long car ride that’s just hit bad traffic. If you’re on board then it’s worth it for the moment after you realise it’s never going to be fun and that it still has an hour forty five to go, and if you’re not then it at least works as its own cue for you to turn it off. Seriously what is this thing.

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Ravenous (1999)
Dir. Antonia Bird
A

Arriving at a fort in the middle of nowhere, Ravenous is Antonia Bird rescuing a logistical catastrophe from falling apart, that demands in the way it’s told an air of expressive catastrophe. Not so much to infiltrate and gain favour with the mad, but to put their madness to good use- too much order would repel the raving spirit of the thing, but then there is a meticulous logic to creating something unhinged. This is not unheard of, although it is a difficult thing to pull off: often works that we can assume were fun to make are not at all fun to watch, and those that desperately want the audience to be in on the joke can make our skin crawl. Bird is a sort of maestro for the way she stands back and allows things to unravel, provoking invisibly from afar when things need to escalate, and suggesting stage lines while never properly delineating them. The offbeat movements of Ravenous appear freeform, but then clarify themselves in retrospect. Because Bird is professionally, functionally mad, she understands that participation is key, and so Ravenous presents things to the audience that could either be funny or horrifying, and neither judges nor condones a reaction so long as it’s getting one. Although deliberate in the way it occurs, Bird makes some tacky moves such as allowing every actor to follow their instinct and stay that way, and playing multiple subtexts as text without resolving them. I for one admire the way that she consummates Carlyle and Pearce’s forbidden romance in one tender shot, and then has Martha fuck off, realising these cannibalistic lunatics called pioneers are going to eat their way through the continent and beyond. Not because one leads into the other, but because she’s acknowledging how many threads Griffin let run concurrently, and how many angles each of Ravenous‘ plot-points and images could be read from. And then fucks off.

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Halloween (1978)
Dir. John Carpenter
A+

One could fairly assume that through parody, replication, and saturation Halloween‘s individual merits have long been lost to its importance and so dulled by virtue of its own influence- its innovations the norm, since then antique. Certainly a so-what response is reasonable, but I’ve never had the ability to see through the eyes of an imagined past audience and Halloween strikes like an arrow. Carpenter equates the camera with the killer in the opening POV sequence and this threatens to read like an exploitation trick, but there’s something about it disturbingly inevitable, black eyed, bereft of desire. Dr Loomis confirms as much when he says his patient as a child was already a lost cause, pure evil, and in the right mood there’s pathos to this resignation, but Carpenter wants him to take on any Shape that we need. In one of its best scenes a group of patients lurch glowing white in the pitch black field and later Michael’s mask takes on the same quality- forgotten ghosts, bogeymen, or just people, they are whatever we need them to be. These Shapes and by extension cameras are a mirror, a black hole and a blinding light.

In a cinema of scares we all jump the same, but in an architecture of horror we’re left to deal with how it feels in our own guts. Carpenter is one of the great directors of space, and Halloween is as immersive as one would expect, but this is complicated by that opening scene. We undergo a split and then combined recognition- we imagine ourselves in the scene, and we see ourselves being watched through the eyes of a watcher. There is something surreally awful about seeing yourself in the eyes of another for two hours. Peeping Tom like Halloween combined the camera with the knife and added a mirror so victims could watch themselves die, but Halloween does not attempt such malicious intimacy. Had the cameras a desire to harm or punish or strip, the watcher/watched would divide itself but Halloween is emphatically reflective.

Anyone who has ever made anything knows you can hear, see, taste everything wrong with it the moment you see someone else hear, see, taste it, and Halloween from a distance shows you everything wrong with your life- it is the difference between looking at yourself in the mirror before leaving the house, and while you’re at the party having seen other people, feeling ugly and wanting to puke. Without an obvious judgement from within the camera’s gaze we become paranoid- it’s not watching us because we’re young (Friday the 13th), or attractive (Blow Out), or just people (Maniac), but for whatever reason we see in its cold black eyes, whatever form its blank white face takes. If the camera is Laurie’s perception of herself, then she is alienated, meandering, alone. In the way of overt violence, she also sees herself as vulnerable, a potential victim. Laurie is afraid that she will be attacked in public spaces and this is sadly not uncommon, although its prevalence has been described as a Spatial Paradox: women tend to be more afraid of attacks in public over domestic spaces, however they are more likely to be attacked at home by somebody they know. There is no telling what Laurie sees in Michael’s blank glowing face and glistening black eyes, but it’s something and someone she recognises.

But then everyone sees it different- even Laurie sees something different every time we/she looks. The reflection shows us whatever we need it to show, whatever we currently need to deal with. Loomis calls it pure evil, and it is hard to deny that there is something purely evil in the camera’s impassivity, but even this can lead to entirely different takes depending on whether or not one believes in evil. Is Loomis recognising his own failure as a doctor, or is it something else? In the hit film It Follows, Mitchell imitates Halloween‘s cameras to mimic the eye of the grim reaper, the morphing Shape of the attacker, but the idea was already fully formed in this older work. All the attacks take place in houses, in the manufactured Safety of the suburban streets, or does it matter more that Laurie stands up to the Shape, fighting her way out of the closet? Although cold, I am unable to read these final points in the conflict as anything other than life-affirming, as the first steps in Laurie becoming what she has always wanted to be.

A ghost story, and one of the loneliest films ever made.

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